Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

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Eebster the Great
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Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:18 am UTC

When I was younger, I used to correct people on their grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and so on. Not often, maybe once or twice a week, but it was enough for everyone to notice and for me to feel like a jerk. I eventually realized that I was the obnoxious one, not the people making "mistakes" (especially after being humbled by the realization that there is no meaning to "correctness" in language that isn't completely arbitrary). But some patterns still irritate me, even if I try not to show it. I hardly notice if people say "ain't" or "chomping at the bit" or "anyways, " but I do cringe when I hear "floundering", "Calvary" (pronounced, when "cavalry" is intended), or "irregardless". I don't say anything (except when tutoring), because in most cases it's pedantic and irrelevant, but I do get annoyed.

When I've talked to other people, I realize we share a lot in common here. It seems like some particular nonstandard usages are far more maddening than others for a whole swath of the population. But it's hard to find a clear pattern. These usages aren't more or less common, they aren't newer or older, they aren't easier or harder to distinguish, they aren't better or worse indicators of class or education, . . . what is it that makes some turns of phrase so damn aggravating?

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby ahammel » Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:34 am UTC

Certain turns of phrase tend to make the listener have to stop and puzzle out the meaning, which is a little irritating in some contexts. If somebody told me "my uncle was in the Calvary", for instance, it would probably take me a second to realise that they meant he was a member of a mounted devision of the armed forces rather than that he was present at the Crucifixion.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:41 am UTC

But would it really? Only one meaning is remotely plausible. I understand the idea of phrases which put more effort on the part of the speaker versus the listener, but in practice that doesn't quite seem right. All of these phrases, in either version, are extremely easy to understand and wholly unambiguous. In particular, "floundering" and "irregardless" have only one meaning in any context. But they still sound wrong.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby ahammel » Fri Sep 30, 2016 6:03 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:But would it really? Only one meaning is remotely plausible. I understand the idea of phrases which put more effort on the part of the speaker versus the listener, but in practice that doesn't quite seem right.
Sure, it's easy to figure out what was intended after even a moment's thought, but it still puts one off one's stride a bit.

All of these phrases, in either version, are extremely easy to understand and wholly unambiguous. In particular, "floundering" and "irregardless" have only one meaning in any context. But they still sound wrong.
I concede that the "don't make me think" theory does not explain those cases. I think that there's a tendency for people who have learned a bunch of fiddly little arbitrary rules to get upset when others don't play by those rules. Ever heard programmers argue about tabs and spaces? (For that matter, ever heard programmers argue about anything?) Or think of any game with subtly different rule-sets. I promise you that each variation has a vocal internet community bemoaning how annoying and immoral and just-plain-wrong all the other variants are.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 6:11 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:But would it really? Only one meaning is remotely plausible. I understand the idea of phrases which put more effort on the part of the speaker versus the listener, but in practice that doesn't quite seem right.
Sure, it's easy to figure out what was intended after even a moment's thought, but it still puts one off one's stride a bit.

I guess. I won't rule that out. But in the media I see this mistake is pretty common, and I certainly can't say I have ever consciously noticed missing a beat here. If anything, it takes a beat for me to notice the mistake.

All of these phrases, in either version, are extremely easy to understand and wholly unambiguous. In particular, "floundering" and "irregardless" have only one meaning in any context. But they still sound wrong.
I concede that the "don't make me think" theory does not explain those cases. I think that there's a tendency for people who have learned a bunch of fiddly little arbitrary rules to get upset when others don't play by those rules. Ever heard programmers argue about tabs and spaces? (For that matter, ever heard programmers argue about anything?) Or think of any game with subtly different rule-sets. I promise you that each variation has a vocal internet community bemoaning how annoying and immoral and just-plain-wrong all the other variants are.

That's probably closer to the truth for me at least. It reminds me of the debates over the pronunciation of ".gif". But then, I also learned from a very early age that "ain't" was wrong (I may have learned this before I even heard it used normally) and that you shouldn't split infinitives (with Star Trek given as an explicit example, even though I wouldn't watch it until many years later . . . way to relate, guys). Yet I usually don't even notice these at all. They don't give the niggling sensation, and I couldn't tell you how often they happened without going back through and counting. They are as "correct" to my ears as anything else. On the other hand, I only distinguished "floundering" from "foundering" relatively recently (maybe in the last three or four years).

It seems like there must be another tier at play here.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby ahammel » Fri Sep 30, 2016 6:17 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
ahammel wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:But would it really? Only one meaning is remotely plausible. I understand the idea of phrases which put more effort on the part of the speaker versus the listener, but in practice that doesn't quite seem right.
Sure, it's easy to figure out what was intended after even a moment's thought, but it still puts one off one's stride a bit.

I guess. I won't rule that out. But in the media I see this mistake is pretty common, and I certainly can't say I have ever consciously noticed missing a beat here. If anything, it takes a beat for me to notice the mistake.
This is the first time I've ever heard of that mistake, to be honest. If you're used to hearing it, than it wouldn't break your flow of understanding to the same extent.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Derek » Fri Sep 30, 2016 7:39 am UTC

What's wrong with floundering?

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 7:43 am UTC

Derek wrote:What's wrong with floundering?

There is nothing wrong with it, but the original term is foundering, meaning "flooding and sinking," used for ships with large holes. "Floundering" sort of makes sense by comparison with the apparently unusual posture of flounders (judging by the position of their eyes), but the original phrase definitely paints a better picture.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby speising » Fri Sep 30, 2016 8:06 am UTC

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/floundering wrote:floun-der [floun-der]

verb (used without object)

1.
to struggle with stumbling or plunging movements (usually followed by about, along, on, through, etc.):
He saw the child floundering about in the water.

2.
to struggle clumsily or helplessly:
He floundered helplessly on the first day of his new job.

Origin of flounder
1570-1580
1570-80; perhaps blend of flounce and founder


sounds perfectly cromulent to me.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby CharlieP » Fri Sep 30, 2016 8:54 am UTC

My girlfriend follows the regional custom (Midlands and North England, possibly beyond) of using the "wrong" past particple - e.g. "he's fell down", "I've ran here", "she's took it" (but not in all cases - she'll always say "he's gone" rather than "he's went"). I rarely comment, but my discomfort must be visible as she'll often correct herself or say "oh, was that the wrong one?"...
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby PeteP » Fri Sep 30, 2016 9:12 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:But would it really? Only one meaning is remotely plausible. I understand the idea of phrases which put more effort on the part of the speaker versus the listener, but in practice that doesn't quite seem right.
Sure, it's easy to figure out what was intended after even a moment's thought, but it still puts one off one's stride a bit.

All of these phrases, in either version, are extremely easy to understand and wholly unambiguous. In particular, "floundering" and "irregardless" have only one meaning in any context. But they still sound wrong.
I concede that the "don't make me think" theory does not explain those cases. I think that there's a tendency for people who have learned a bunch of fiddly little arbitrary rules to get upset when others don't play by those rules. Ever heard programmers argue about tabs and spaces? (For that matter, ever heard programmers argue about anything?) Or think of any game with subtly different rule-sets. I promise you that each variation has a vocal internet community bemoaning how annoying and immoral and just-plain-wrong all the other variants are.

Something doesn't have to create any trouble in understanding to stop you for a moment. I am german and my language has a gender for every noun, if someone gets the gender wrong and says der instead of die or das, well it doesn't make it harder to understand them, the genders are superfluous and carry no important information. But that doesn't mean I can keep from noticing if someone makes an error, because it just sounds wrong to me.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 30, 2016 4:41 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Derek wrote:What's wrong with floundering?

There is nothing wrong with it, but the original term is foundering, meaning "flooding and sinking," used for ships with large holes. "Floundering" sort of makes sense by comparison with the apparently unusual posture of flounders (judging by the position of their eyes), but the original phrase definitely paints a better picture.
I've never used "floundering" to mean something like "flooding and sinking", though. It means flopping about impotently, but not irrevocably, which paints a very different picture from the complete failure implied by the original meaning of "foundering".
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 9:12 pm UTC

I suppose. I don't really get the comparison though. Flounders don't flop around (at least not any more than any other fish).

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Lazar » Fri Sep 30, 2016 9:26 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:(at least not any more than any other fish).

So you admit that they do! The prosecution rests.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 30, 2016 11:23 pm UTC

Ha, I guess so. When you take them out of water.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Oct 01, 2016 5:00 am UTC

And birds eat quite a lot relative to their weight and clams are statistically no happier than other bivalves.

Not all animal-related expressions make zoological sense.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Derek » Sat Oct 01, 2016 6:21 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:and clams are statistically no happier than other bivalves.

I'm gonna need a citation for this. Also while we're at it, how does their felicity compare to other mollusks?

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Oct 01, 2016 8:04 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:And birds eat quite a lot relative to their weight and clams are statistically no happier than other bivalves.

Not all animal-related expressions make zoological sense.

Well "as happy as a clam at high water" sort of makes sense. Not sure what bird-related expression you're referencing.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby PeteP » Sat Oct 01, 2016 8:18 pm UTC


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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Oct 01, 2016 11:48 pm UTC

First time I've seen it. Actually, many birds are very small, active, and warm-blooded, so they tend to eat a lot. Maybe the analogy isn't to the quantity of food though but to just picking at it rather than chowing down, like a chicken pecking at grain versus a dog wolfing down meat?

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Oct 02, 2016 1:02 am UTC

That may be the origin, but it's not what it means in general use now.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby lorb » Mon Oct 03, 2016 10:02 am UTC

PeteP wrote:Something doesn't have to create any trouble in understanding to stop you for a moment. I am german and my language has a gender for every noun, if someone gets the gender wrong and says der instead of die or das, well it doesn't make it harder to understand them, the genders are superfluous and carry no important information. But that doesn't mean I can keep from noticing if someone makes an error, because it just sounds wrong to me.


Some words change meaning depending on gender. For example:
der Junge - boy
das Junge - baby/youngling/kid
die Junge - young woman/girl
or
die Steuer - tax
das Steuer - steering wheel
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Derek » Mon Oct 03, 2016 3:08 pm UTC

Is there any research on how languages assign gender to new words? I can imagine a couple possibilities, but they'd only be guesses.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby ahammel » Mon Oct 03, 2016 4:52 pm UTC

lorb wrote:Some words change meaning depending on gender.
My favourite example, from Italian:

tavolo: a table as a piece of furniture (as in: "I bought a new kitchen table")
tavola: a table as a place where meals are eaten (as in: "please set the table")
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Oct 04, 2016 5:38 am UTC

....

Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Oct 04, 2016 7:38 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:....

Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .

There is nothing wrong with the phrase at all, but it is an example sometimes given of a common mistake. I chose it because it was particularly silly. I considered "another think coming" as an even more ludicrous attempt at correction. Some people get hung up about these differences that never were based on anything in the first place (just look at how people argue about the pronunciation of .gif). But on the other hand, all of this is pretty arbitrary anyway.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Angua » Tue Oct 04, 2016 8:33 am UTC

Which word has the wrong spelling? Chomping seems to be right to me, and bit seems to be the right word for that part of the bridle...

And horses definitely do chomp on the thing.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby jaap » Tue Oct 04, 2016 8:51 am UTC

Angua wrote:Which word has the wrong spelling? Chomping seems to be right to me, and bit seems to be the right word for that part of the bridle...

And horses definitely do chomp on the thing.

Apparently it used to be champing at the bit, and some people insist it still is.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Flumble » Tue Oct 04, 2016 12:55 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .

Maybe not a person, but a puppet fox? Definitely. (that's where I learned the phrase in the first place)


lorb wrote:Some words change meaning depending on gender.

For Junge the gender does carry a significant amount of information, but for Steuer you can safely throw away the gender and you're left with a homonym for which the meaning becomes clear as daylight in context (except if you pay your steer or grab your taxes with both hands).

Derek wrote:Is there any research on how languages assign gender to new words? I can imagine a couple possibilities, but they'd only be guesses.

A quick search got me a source for German: http://stemke.piraten-nds.de/2014/08/10 ... Neue_Worte . It basically follows the same pattern by which German grammatical genders are assigned by default: actions and results become neuter, abstract descriptions become feminine, the rest becomes masculine. And just like some regular words defy these patterns, a some loanwords and new words do too.
I'm no linguist, but I'd guess this goes for all languages. Maybe there's an odd language that says all loanwords must be gender x or all words invented past 2000 must be gender x.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby ahammel » Tue Oct 04, 2016 2:37 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:I considered "another think coming" as an even more ludicrous attempt at correction.
"Another think coming" is clearly intentionally ungrammatical for funzies.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Oct 04, 2016 3:43 pm UTC

Purists will insist you must spell it "think" and not "thing," because even though it is ungrammatical, that expression is only proper when ungrammatical.

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby CharlieP » Wed Oct 05, 2016 10:48 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:....

Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .

There is nothing wrong with the phrase at all, but it is an example sometimes given of a common mistake. I chose it because it was particularly silly. I considered "another think coming" as an even more ludicrous attempt at correction.


Why "ludicrous attempt", when that's what the phrase should be? It's perfectly acceptable to say "have a think about it", "I'll have a good think about it and let you know" etc., so while colloquial ("another thought" would be more standard), it's way better than "another thing coming", which suddenly introduces a "thing" into the sentence where none previously existed...
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby CharlieP » Wed Oct 05, 2016 10:48 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:I considered "another think coming" as an even more ludicrous attempt at correction.
"Another think coming" is clearly intentionally ungrammatical for funzies.


Is "have a good think about it" ungrammatical too?
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:49 am UTC

CharlieP wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:....

Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .

There is nothing wrong with the phrase at all, but it is an example sometimes given of a common mistake. I chose it because it was particularly silly. I considered "another think coming" as an even more ludicrous attempt at correction.


Why "ludicrous attempt", when that's what the phrase should be?
Careful you don't mistake "should be" and "used to be". They are not the same.

It's perfectly acceptable to say "have a think about it", "I'll have a good think about it and let you know" etc., so while colloquial ("another thought" would be more standard), it's way better than "another thing coming", which suddenly introduces a "thing" into the sentence where none previously existed...
Everything is a thing.

Also, I would argue that "have a good think" is equally colloquial and inappropriate for any formal register
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby siloguist » Wed Oct 05, 2016 1:44 pm UTC

Generally, as OP said, I usually try to keep in mind that language is constantly evolving and that the concept of the 'correct' use of language is shaky at best. That said, there is one expression that does get my goat, but only because it expresses the exact opposite of what the speaker means: "I could care less". It stands to reason that if you could care less about something, you necessarily had to have cared about it at least a little bit! In this case, it's not bending the previous conventions of language, it's directly contradicting the concept of negation itself. Please tell me it's not just me that's bothered by this. :P

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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 05, 2016 2:33 pm UTC

It's not just you. Lots of people pick that one example of illogical usage to be inordinately peevy about.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby CharlieP » Wed Oct 05, 2016 3:33 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
CharlieP wrote:Why "ludicrous attempt", when that's what the phrase should be?
Careful you don't mistake "should be" and "used to be". They are not the same.


Ah, yes, your right.

Or "you're", as it used to be written.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby HES » Wed Oct 05, 2016 4:02 pm UTC

siloguist wrote:"I could care less"

We've already covered this.
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:19 pm UTC

Flumble wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:Why would a person, even hypothetically, have a problem with "chomping at the bit"? It's the same word with a more common (regional) spelling. = .

Maybe not a person, but a puppet fox? Definitely. (that's where I learned the phrase in the first place)

Ha! Fair enough!
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Re: Why are some linguistic patterns irritating?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:26 pm UTC

CharlieP wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
CharlieP wrote:Why "ludicrous attempt", when that's what the phrase should be?
Careful you don't mistake "should be" and "used to be". They are not the same.


Ah, yes, your right.

Or "you're", as it used to be written.
Careful you don't mistake "They are not the same" and "They are completely disjoint". They are not the same.

(Unless you're willing to say that *every* part of all modern languages is different than it should be, in which case you have rather bizarre and unique opinions about "should", you need to accept that some divergences from prior uses are acceptable.)
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